Scuba-diving in Cook Islands: Everything you need to know!

DestinationCouple snorkelling in Aitutaki lagoon off Honeymoon Island. Photographer: David Kirkland
25 February 2019

Imagine this: You’ve got the nitrox tanks, done the checks and dived in with the guide to swim amongst the shoals of fish and coral reefs. What you see down below is shoals of divers GoPro-ing the life out of a solitary parrotfish and greyish stretches of coral reefs…

Nope, not good at all. What you had pictured was miles of crystal-clear waters, busy shoals of fishes, pristine coral reefs… and probably a couple of divers. That’s Cook Islands in a nutshell. Just a hop away from Sydney and Auckland, this country prides itself on being one of the best scuba-diving hotspots in the world.

Location and Geography

The desire to explore the deeps has always been as ingrained, as much as the push to explore the unknown. When you want to indulge the diver in you, let us show you why these isles are so highly regarded all over the world!

Flying from Auckland, Rarotonga (the capital of Cook Islands) is a four-hour flight; while it is a straight six-hour flex from Sydney. Consisting of 15 islands, the country offers travellers some of the best water-sports, beaches, nightlife and – diving to be had in the South Pacific and the world. With exotic names like Aitutaki, Mauke, Mangaia, Atiu, Manuae, Takutea, Palmerston and Mitiaro, each of these gems have something unique to make them stand out.

For example, Aitutaki may very well be Bora Bora from 20 years back – refreshing uncommercialized, but breathtakingly beautiful. Its beaches are like swathes of powdered sugar and the lagoon is a sheet of glass. Then, Mitiaro is where you want to go to experience a proper island-style home-stay, Tongareva for snorkelling and diving and so on and so forth…

A sea-scooter ‘seafari’ just outside the reef in Rarotonga. Photographer: David Kirkland

Hotspots

Let’s give an idea of how big the prospective playground is. If Cook Island’s land area is compared to the ocean component, think of a wine glass sitting on a dinner table big enough to seat 50. That’s right. Cook Islands may have just 240 sq km of land to house its population, but over 2 million sq km of seas to explore!

You can literally dive anywhere and have a great time swimming, snorkelling and diving. But we’re not here for great, but for truly awesome dives. Luckily, Cook Islands has scores of hotspots for fantastic underwater adventures. Plus, it has enough range to attract newbie swimmers to experienced dive-masters. Starting from Rarotonga, there are over 40 dive sites nearby. Surrounded by the lagoon’s calm, glassy blue waters, Raro’s a great place for beginners, too.

We’ll check in at our all-time favourite – the SS Maitai! A hulking 3,400-ton steamship got wrecked back in 1916 and now it’s a happy home for fishes. Over a century of coral growth has ensured it’s truly a part of the marine ecosystem. Divers will find themselves surrounded by old Ford Model-T tyres, anemone fish, steam boilers, wrasses, the massive rudders, angel fish… you get the idea.

Connected by nature – Muri Beach, Rarotonga. Photographer: David Kirkland

Then, the Northern Reef section is full of dive sites perfect for beginners. From Edna’s Anchor to Ngatipa to Pue – you’ll find several species of coral and inquisitive schools of fishes, enough to pass hours (or tanks!) of fun. The Mataora Wreck is also a fantastic dive site to check out on the way, too!

The Papua Drop-Off is also a fun way to experience deep dives for the first time. Divers will enter a shallow cavern at 10 metres depth, going down to encounter a crayfish colony and several majestic eagle rays at around 40 metres or so.

And here’s some more hotspots…

For experienced divers, we would be remiss if the Avarua Passage wasn’t mentioned. Divers have fast underwater currents to keep an eye on, but that’s the fun of drift dives. The Avarua pass is a regular haunt of sharks, barracudas and eagle rays. The depth varies from 12-24 metres, but it is a breathtaking dive every time.

Edna’s Anchor in the Northern Reef, as we mentioned, is a fairly easy deep dive. Starting from around 10 metres, the sand floor gentles drops to shelf at 30 metres depth. After a nice stretch, it drops again to 60 metres deep this time. Divers will find shoals of multihued marine life, including trumpetfish, lion fish, moray eels and more.

Fun off the renowned One-Foot Island sand bar in Aitutaki. Photographer: David Kirkland

You have to visit Dave’s Cave, though. Known by many names (such as the Labyrinth, the Maze and so on), it is a series of tunnels full of lionfish, crayfish and other tropical beauties. It’s a riveting dive and we’re sure you’ll be visiting twice in your holiday, if not more!

Note: By no means is this a complete list. The Cook Islands have scores of dive sites which you just have to visit for yourself. Of course, our South Pacific Specialists are aces when it comes to planning an all-inclusive diving holiday in the Cook Islands.

Weather and Time to Visit

The weather is almost always pleasant, and dive-masters take pride in saying that you can go scuba-diving in Cook Islands any time of the year. However, if you want to combine scuba-diving with spotting humpback whales, then July to October will be the window. November to March are spotted with regular summer showers and is somewhat of a cyclone period – but relax, they’re very infrequent. Very much so. Cook Islands are more of a sun-soaked paradise than puddle county, so you’re better off carrying an industrial-sized suntan lotion than a brolly.

Although Cook Islands doesn’t have a diving special resort per se, it does have a range which affords travellers their exact measure of luxe quotient. From mid-range, family-friendly offerings to adults-only retreat and full-blown luxury villas, just ask and have it. Also, budget-friendly travellers need not be disappointed – we’ve got you covered. Need all-inclusive deals with flights and transfers or choice when it comes to dive operators? Go that, too.

Wanna pack already?

As fantastic as the Cook Islands are when it comes to water-sports and diving, you’ll love it more for the warm, inviting hospitality of the people. As we’ve come to realise, travellers come for the beaches and the diving, but they return to experience the simple island life and the friendly nature of the people. Who wouldn’t?

Check out Cook Island holiday resorts and all-inclusive diving packages here. If you want to bounce scuba-diving ideas and itineraries off our South Pacific Specialists, just reach out with the chatbot or call directly at at 1300 991 751! #NeverTooFar

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